New chair for computer science
of PlanetLab to lead the department
Larry L. Peterson has been named chair of the Department
of Computer Science. He succeeds David Dobkin, who
was appointed dean of the faculty.
Peterson is the new chairman of the Department of Computer
by Frank Wojciechowski
Professor Peterson's research activities include optimizing
the congestion control algorithm used in the Internet; improving
operating system support for high-speed networks; designing
new directory services used to discover network resources
and services; developing new protocols for group communication;
and building scalable Internet routers that can be dynamically
configured to support new functionality.
He is one of the founders of PlanetLab, an experimental global
network of computers that is expected to become a testing
ground for a future generation of the Internet.
An overlay network
PlanetLab is designed to allow researchers to develop and
test powerful new types of software that are not confined
to a single computer but run on many computers at once, treating
the global network, in a sense, as one large, widely distributed
Once fully developed, such a network could yield many benefits,
from faster downloads to more powerful search engines. A person
watching an online video, for example, might receive it from
many computers that work together to avoid congested parts
of the Internet. Software that scans the entire Internet for
malicious behavior would catch problems before they could
be detected by a single computer at one particular site.
"If I can observe the behavior of the Internet from
multiple vantage points, I can see what the traffic looks
like, where the losses are and where the congestion is,"
Professor Peterson said.
In its initial stages, PlanetLab is expected to be most useful
as a vehicle--open to any researcher in industry or academia--for
testing globally distributed applications.
Previously, researchers relied on network simulation, or
a cluster of computers in a single room or building. With
PlanetLab, which is built onto the Internet as an "overlay"
network, researchers have a real-life testing ground that
would be impossible for any single institution or company
to create, Professor Peterson said.
"The Internet is much flakier than a controlled machine
room," he said. "And it's just not practical for
any one researcher to have hundreds of machines spread all
over the world."
The PlanetLab project began in March 2002 when researchers
from several institutions met to discuss the idea. The founding
group included David Culler of Intel and the University of
California at Berkeley, Tom Anderson of the University of
Washington, and Professor Peterson.
Intel, the world's largest computer chip maker and a manufacturer
of networking products, provided seed grants of equipment
to set up a network of nearly 200 computers hosted by 75 international
institutions. The technology firms HP and Google also are
joining the project and will commit resources to it.
Princeton University recently committed to hosting a formal
consortium of PlanetLab users and developers. The University
will provide administrative and technical support as the system
grows toward a goal of 1,000 nodes worldwide.
"PlanetLab is unlike any other collaborative research
effort I've been involved in," Professor Peterson said.
"It has an energy much like that which existed in the
earliest days of the Internet.
"Researchers are using PlanetLab as a platform for advancing
their individual research agendas, but at the same time they
are looking for opportunities to contribute to PlanetLab's
"If I had to put my finger on the key idea in the architecture,
it's that we have designed PlanetLab to provide a level playing
field for innovation, and the research community has responded
David Tennenhouse, vice president of the Corporate Technology
Group and director of research at Intel, said Intel is excited
to be a part of this global collaboration.
"PlanetLab researchers are going to unlock a new era
of innovation on the Internet, bringing new services within
milliseconds of their users around the world, and affecting
the design of smart servers and embedded storage and network
processors," Mr. Tennenhouse said. "We are simultaneously
creating the engines of future Internet growth and learning
about the new products that will be required to make them
Patrick Scaglia, vice president and director of the Internet
and Computing Platforms Research Center at HP Labs said HP
is extremely excited about joining PlanetLab.
"It's a perfect example of collaborative research,"
he said. "Neither we, nor Intel, nor Berkeley, nor Princeton
could create alone the next generation Internet that will
be born in PlanetLab."
PlanetLab researchers believe the project will help the Internet
evolve beyond a simple structure for transmitting data from
place to place and toward a system that can manipulate the
data before and after it travels. It is a first step toward
an Internet that has processing power built into the infrastructure
of the network.
Because it is so decentralized, the Internet cannot change
overnight. But if PlanetLab demonstrates value, companies
that sell Internet hardware might begin to work aspects of
the system into their products, Professor Peterson said.
PlanetLab is known as an overlay system because it builds
on the basic infrastructure of the Internet.
The Internet itself began as an overlay system on top of
the phone system and still depends in large part on wires
and cables that were first designed for telephone communications.
"PlanetLab is plainly an idea whose time has come,"
said Vinton Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet and
now senior vice president for architecture and technology
at MCI. "While it is too early to tell what is likely
to be discovered, it seems inescapable that this platform
will furnish opportunities for innovative experiments."
Professor Peterson said PlanetLab already has become a valuable
teaching tool for both graduate and undergraduate students
who study networks.
Courses at several universities have been built around the
project, and he is teaching one this fall. Other Princeton
researchers involved in the project are assistant professors
Vivek Pai and Randy Wang.
"I'm very excited by the PlanetLab initiative,"
said Maria Klawe, dean of the School of Engineering
and Applied Science. "It is a unique collaboration between
academia and industry that has already produced a powerful
tool for both teaching and research. I am particularly proud
of Larry Peterson's team, which has been responsible for defining
the architecture and building the key pieces of technology.
"Princeton is now stepping forward to create an academia-industry
consortium to take PlanetLab to a significantly larger scale
with enhanced core tools and technologies. This exemplifies
the kind of leadership that our School of Engineering and
Applied Science aspires to achieve."
Professor Peterson received his undergraduate degree in 1979
from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and his master's
degree and Ph.D. in computer science from Purdue University
in 1982 and 1985, respectively.
He is a coauthor of Computer Networks: A Systems Approach,
a networking textbook. He recently served as editor-in-chief
of the ACM Transactions on Computer Systems, and has
been on the editorial board for ACM/IEEE Transactions on
Networking, the ACM Transactions on Embedded Systems,
and the IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications.
Professor Peterson joined the Princeton faculty in 1998 from
the University of Arizona, where he was professor and head
of the computer science department. There, Professor Peterson
was recognized for his teaching abilities by being awarded
the Distinguished Teaching Award for the College of Science
at the University of Arizona in 1995.
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